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Trio of Undrafted Linebackers Turning Heads
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Making the team as an undrafted free agent is one of the hardest tasks in professional sports.
However, the Los Angeles Chargers have a noted history of striking it rich by unearthing hidden gems.
In fact, no team has success in that department like the Bolts.
At least one undrafted free agent has made the final 53-man roster for 20 straight years, which is the longest active streak in the NFL. The past two years have seen four of them make it out of training camp.
Through the first week of camp, a trio of undrafted linebackers are proving worthy successors.
James Onwualu, Nigel Harris and Mike Moore picked up where they left off after showing out during the offseason program. While much remains to be seen, including how they perform in the team’s four preseason games, each man is making a case they not only belong on the 53-man roster, but are worthy of an important role.
The ability to lean on one another had added a level of comfort that’s allowed them to make the most of this opportunity.
“We’re keeping each other motivated,” Harris explained. “It’s all about enjoying the process, but at the same time, we know we’ve got to put in work. We know there can be some tough days, but we pick each other up on a daily basis.”
A 6-0, 225-pound linebacker out of South Florida blessed with blazing speed in the low 4.5s, Harris was shocked to not hear his name called on draft day. Soon after the final player was selected, his phone rang off the hook with suitors attempting to secure his services.
It didn’t take long to realize he’s best choice was with the Bolts.
“This was my best place to not only make the team, but earn playing time this year. They didn’t draft any other linebackers, and looking at the system and how I like to play, it was the right fit. It was the best opportunity here. I’ve been a part of a program where I came in with a new coaching staff, and we got better and better. I see the same thing here.”
Harris has flashed his range and speed from the moment he stepped onto the practice field, knowing it’s his path to playing time.
“Honestly, I just go out there and play. I have fun with it knowing that I have that speed. I know I can disguise things. The offense may think one thing seeing I am a linebacker, but then I use my speed and it comes (out of the blue). That leads to turnovers.”
It certainly did at South Florida, where his eight career forced fumbles rank second in school history.
Meanwhile, Onwualu was another highly coveted linebacker who chose the Bolts over 17 other teams hot on his trail. The outside linebacker arrived alongside a familiar face in Isaac Rochell, the team’s seventh-round draft pick. In fact, the pair served as co-captains their final season at Notre Dame.
In addition, the bond he’s built with his fellow undrafted linebackers has helped ease the adjustment.
“We push each other. Not every day is easy, so to have two other guys in a similar spot as me to help push me forward and learn has been helpful. We spent extra time in the film room. The first week went well for us. I’m up to speed on the playbook, and I feel like things are going well. I’m excited to get a preseason game under my belt.”
The next step in the evaluation process for all three undrafted linebackers is live game action. They’ve craved it from the moment they joined the team, and now that it is only a mere few days away, are each eager to show what they can do in an actual game.
“I want to continue to show my physicality. I want to prove my skillset on special teams. I want to just make as many plays as possible. I’m trying to push myself each day to get better. At the end of the day, I have to get better in every single practice to perform my job (at a high level).”
Finally, Moore is no stranger to adversity.
The former Kansas State star overcame the odds after undergoing surgery on a brain tumor in 2014. The doctors thought he’d never take the field again after his testosterone levels were as low as those of a 77-year old.
“(Taking) a shot to the head, I could have died or gone blind,” he said during the offseason. “My world seemed like it ended. Football was how I planned on providing for my family because I had just found out that my son was on the way. I was in my senior year going to graduate in the winter and I wanted to play ball. When they told me there was a possibility I wouldn’t be able to play, it was so defeating.”
Yet here he is today, competing at a high level while aiming to prove himself worthy of a spot on the 53-man roster. Moore brings a lot to the table, and is determined to make the most out of every opportunity after overcoming the odds.
“I bring an attitude to the field. I’m a hard hitter. I don’t flinch. I’ll take on the block. I try to make big plays and turn the ball over. It’s truly a blessing. I thank God every day to be able to put that bolt on. Knowing what this team does with undrafted free agents, it gets me even more excited. We all have a true, fair chance to make this team. Everybody’s got a chance for a job. So, I don’t take any day for granted. (After what I went through) I wake up every day and I thank God. Before I take the field, you’ll see me take a knee and thank God for everything, and for the body and mind to be here. I’m blessed.”